Dev Journal: Tactical Combat Bonanza

This week we’re going to have an in-depth look into the Age of Wonders III tactical combat mechanics. Tactical combat is one of the most important parts of the game, and we’ve worked very hard to refine the rules to make it more exciting and tactical. Our main goal was to make combat faster, and more lethal, while maintaining and improving the depth and tactical options that people expect from the series.

Action Points

Each unit has 3 action points that determine how many times it can attack in a round.

01 - Action Points

You can see here that our Goblin Wolf Rider currently has all 3 left over.

As a unit moves, it loses action points. When a unit is selected, the colored markers on the ground indicate how many action points the unit will have left when it stands in a hex.

Green indicates the unit will have full action points, so it will attack 3 times:

02 - 3 Action Points

Yellow indicates 2 action points:

03 - 2 Action Points

Orange indicates 1. Notice that no matter how far a unit moves, it will always keep it’s last action point:

04 - 1 Action Points

Retaliation, Flanking and Guarding

When one unit attacks another with a melee attack, the defending unit will retaliate and strike back. Each time the defender does this, they use up an action point, so once they’ve retaliated 3 times, they won’t be able to retaliate any more. Even worse for the defender, a unit gets it’s action points refilled at the end of its turn. So, after retaliating 3 times, the defender won’t be able to use the unit themselves next turn!

To demonstrate, lets watch what happens when this filthy human cavalry viciously attacks our poor, innocent goblin wolf rider:

05 - Human Attacks

He’ll be attacking from a yellow hex, so he’ll hit twice. Our heroic goblin has full action points still, so he retaliates twice as well.

Afterwards, it’s the goblin’s turn, and he still only has 1 action point left. The human just ended his turn, so his action points have already been refilled:

06 - Goblin Retaliates

The human has a problem though, he’s alone, and exposed. If you can attack a unit from one of the hexes behind it, that attack is a Flanking Attack. Flanking attacks are special for two reasons:

1) The attack gets +2 damage on every type (so +2 physical damage, if a unit also does fire damage it would also get +2 fire damage)
2) A flanked defender cannot retaliate against something behind him, so he loses one chance to retaliate as he turns around.

The goblin marauders are in position to flank now:

07 - Flanking

Since the attack is flanking, the cavalry will only be able to retaliate once instead of twice. After the flanking attack, the cavalry is facing the marauder, so the next attack does normal damage, and the cavalry can retaliate. The cavalry is now facing the marauder, meaning he can now be flanked again:

08 - Ranged Flanking

As you can see, ranged attacks can flank as well. Even though the target cannot retaliate against them, he will still turn to face the unit shooting him in the back, so only the first shot will receive the flanking bonus. Through clever use of flanking, groups of weak units can take out powerful foes while taking minimal damage themselves.

There is one defense against this, however: A unit can sacrifice its actions for a turn and enter Guard Mode. A unit in Guard Mode cannot be flanked, and gets a 20% bonus to defense and resistance. Guarding units are better at locking down ranged units and performing attacks of opportunity as well, but we’ll get to that later.

09 - GuardFlank

The clever goblin is in guard mode, so the cavalry cannot flank him, even though he’s striking from behind.

Engagement and Attacks Of Opportunity

If a unit is next to an enemy, and facing them, then that enemy is Engaged. Most ranged units cannot use their abilities if they’ve been engaged by an enemy.

10 - RangedEngaged

To make matters worse, if a unit tries to move out of a hex where he’s engaged by an enemy, that enemy will hit them with an attack of opportunity.

11 - OpportunityAttacks

The red triangles tell the human player that moving the archers along the white path would get him hit by two opportunity attacks from goblin skewers.

12 - OpportunityEscape

If the human player flanks the goblins, they will turn away, and the archers could escape in safety. This would not work if the Goblins were guarding however, units on guard can engage in every direction at once, not just in front of them!

Ranged Attacks

Like melee attacks, most ranged attacks get one shot per action point the attacker has. Some slower weapons, such as crossbows, can only fire once per turn. These weapons tend to do more damage, however, and allow a unit to be move more freely without reducing damage output.

13 - RangedAttack

If a target is too far away, then a ranged penalty is applied, halving the attacks damage.

14 - RangedAttackCloser

Sometimes it will be in an attackers best interest to move closer to do more damage, even though it will fire fewer shots. This can leave the unit vulnerable to attack however. Most ranged units are fragile and need to be protected carefully from melee attackers.

15 - LineOfSightBlock

Obstacles and other units on the battlefield will block line of sight, and this can reduce damage even further.

16 - NextToAlly

However, a unit can shoot through friendly units and many low obstacles as long as they’re right next to them.

Some ranged attackers negate these penalties entirely. Elven longbow men suffer no ranged penalties, regardless of how far they fire, while Goblin Swarm Darters shoot living darts made of poisonous mosquitoes. The mosquitoes home in on their targets, ignoring all ranged penalties and line of sight checks.

Special Unit Abilities

There are many special abilities that units can have which affect the flow of combat, there are far too many to list, but I’ve included a brief description of some of the most important ones.

17 - Flier

Flying units can fly over obstacles and units, and only need to worry about attacks of opportunity when they take off. This allows them to penetrate enemy lines to strike at vulnerable units at the back.

This screen shot also demonstrates the Swarm Darter’s Inflict Noxious Vulnerability ability. Every attack from the unit has a chance of putting a minor status effect on the target which reduces its resistance, making it more vulnerable to non-physical damage.

18 - First Strike

Defending units with first strike will attack their attackers before their attackers manage to hit them. In this case, this allows the defenders strike their attackers more times than the attackers strike them. Attackers can bypass first strike by flanking the defender, or by having first strike themselves.

Here we can also see that the Halberdiers have the polearm ability (+4 damage versus cavalry) while the cavalry have the Overwhelm ability (+3 damage versus units with shields and polearms).

19 - Static Shield

Wisps have the Static Shield ability, which has a chance to stun any unit that attacks them in melee. Stunned units cannot move, guard or engage other units, and every attack on a stunned unit is automatically flanking.

20 - Stunning Touch

This is one of the many touch attacks in the game, if the goblins resist the stun effect then they lose a few move points instead, so the player’s turn isn’t completely wasted.

That’s it! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more updates!


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Home Forums Dev Journal: Tactical Combat Bonanza

This topic contains 57 replies, has 38 voices, and was last updated by  Tombles 8 years, 4 months ago.

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    This week we’re going to have an in-depth look into the Age of Wonders III tactical combat mechanics. Tactical combat is one of the most important par
    [See the full post at: Dev Journal: Tactical Combat Bonanza]


    Tombles is a notorious goblin fanboi, don’t listen to him.



    What was that? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of how awesome Goblins are :3


    Wonderful read to get a bit more familiar with the options.

    One question:
    As far as I understand, a flanking attack gets a +2 damage for all damage channels.
    What is the rationale behind that?

    I am just asking because it feels a bit counterintuitive to me.
    It makes obviously sense that physical attacks make more damage because the defending unit was not fully aware of the attack, so the attacker can deliver more damage to unprotected parts, soldiers unaware of the attack and so on.
    But the effect of non-physical damage types could be seens as rather independent of orientation of the defending unit as they are normally (as far as I understand it) somehow side-effects of the physical attacks. Burning fire and poison usually doesn’t care if the victim is looking their way.
    Not sure how others see it, to me it feels somewhat illogical.



    I like everything that I see. But it becomes harder to wait much harder. The longest month begins.


    I like everything that I see. But it becomes harder to wait much harder. The longest month begins.

    Indeed! Thanks Tombles for this elaborate journal.



    One question:<br>
    As far as I understand, a flanking attack gets a +2 damage for all damage channels.<br>
    What is the rationale behind that?

    The main rationale is that some attacks don’t do physical damage, and we wanted all flanking attacks to get bonus damage.

    With what you’re saying, it’s kind of a weird one. If something spits poison at you, you can dodge a bit, or try and cover your face to reduce the damage. The same could be said for any attack really. With some things, like lightning, it makes less sense, and with others, like a fireball, it makes more sense.

    In the end, for consistency, it’s simpler just to add the extra damage to all channels.


    Yeah, I see, thanks for the clarification, Tombles.
    Have to admit that I wasn’t aware or didn’t know that there are attacks that have NO physical damage at all, although it makes sense of course.

    For attacks where the non-physical damage part is a kind of side-effect of the physical attack, e.g. an attack with a fiery sword or a poisoned blade or something similar, the additional damage on both channels feels still a bit weird to me, but yeah, it depends on the attack in question and may as well be that my feeling is wrong here.



    Amazing. All the stuff I’ve loved from previous installments is there, and more on top too. Lovely.

    Some questions:

    1. If seven stacks engage each other in an epic battle (of doooom!), will all armies start on the sides of the map with one unfortunate one in the center, or will they be facing each other from the same side?

    2. Will the strategic side of the game be as amazing, deep and detailed as the tactical combat? *puppy eyes*
    -Saying no will give you 50 Evil Alignment-


    @ StupendousMan,

    yeah this caught me out at first as well, and caused my physically immune leader to be ripped to pieces…


    Fear the Goblins….



    Thorough explanation on the game mechanics. Following on what StupendousMan said, will for example the Fairy Strike (with 3 ice, 3 fire and 3 lightning damage) practically double the damage output by adding +2 to each source of damage?

    Is it common for attacks to have say three or more types of damage; making some units extra strong when flanking?


    vota dc

    So slowest units are usually 24 mp while fast are 36. This mean 4 square for slow and 6 for fast. In aow 1 you have goblins with 24, humans with 26, assassins with 28 and highmen with 30. Are there intermediate movement points like 26-28 or after 24 you have just 30? In that case what change? Same maximum movement but if you lose mp you will move the same?


    Ice Age

    1. If seven stacks engage each other in an epic battle (of doooom!), will all armies start on the sides of the map with one unfortunate one in the center, or will they be facing each other from the same side?

    The adjacent hex rule works like that:
    The combat take place on the hex of the defending stack, which is always in the middle! All the stacks around the defending stack (one of them must be the attacker) are joining the battle in their appropriate position around the defending stack! So yes one stack is always in the middle.
    Except for siege battles! In sieges the adjacent hex rule works as well, but the defenders and attackers are facing each other, the defenders behind the walls and the attackers outside them.




    Yes, the first shot from a fairy (which does 3 damage on 3 channels) will do 15 damage (3×5) against a unit with 10 resistance, if its flanking. The next two don’t get the bonus though.

    It is not common at all to attack on 3 damage channels at once, fairies do it, so do apprentices, maybe a couple of others.

    Due to how the damage system works, multi-channel damage attacks are at a disadvantage usually, since they do less damage against tough creatures. If I attack a unit with a resistance of 12, it’s better to do 20 fire damage, instead of 10 fire and 10 lightning. This helps balance it out.



    Thanks for the clarification, Tombles. 🙂



    i agree the wait is getting harder and harder, thank you for the update, lol at the filthy humans and noble goblins



    Good to read this new dev journal.

    There is a point, though, that it is not explained.
    I am referring to the purple hexes with a pair of arrows inside.

    I suppose that they are the way of putting in practice a let’s say… tactical retreat for units or even for leaving completely the battle.

    If any unit leaves the arena, will they remain with their party IF the combat is won and be lost, if not?
    Can you Tombles or any beta-testers explain a bit better this mechanic?

    Thanks in advance! 😉



    Yes this will be awsome! I realy hope there will be a demo on steam soon. 🙂



    The hexes with the arrows inside are retreat hexes, if an attacking player moves a unit onto the hex, it will be removed from battle. Defenders cannot retreat. The retreating unit will be available for play in the world map, but will have all of its movepoints at zero, so it won’t be able to travel any further that turn.



    Not to make the separate thread I’ll ask here:

    When the battle starts, the first turn belongs to defender, right? If it’s a siege, does the defender (in the 1st round) have an opportunity to place his forses anywhere inside the walls and can his archers shoot 3 times, as it was in AoW-2?



    Very nice! Keeping the best of AoW SM while adding great new abilities! Fantastic design about getting the archers out of the opportunity attack danger.

    One big question though: When moving units a far distance in tactical combat, SM tended to ignore that some squares would expose them to opportunity attacks, while another path, or the exact same length would leave it unharmed. You would have to move your unit one hex at a time to coax them long the safe path.

    Would be nice if this can be addressed.


    Not to make the separate thread I’ll ask here:

    When the battle starts, the first turn belongs to defender, right? If it’s a siege, does the defender (in the 1st round) have an opportunity to place his forses anywhere inside the walls and can his archers shoot 3 times, as it was in AoW-2?

    Not anywhere within the walls, but units get extra movement on the first turn, I believe an extra 50%…

    It has been a while since I had to defend a city :).


    Haha Tombles and his Goblin fetish! How he wishes every day that he was born a Goblin…


    I thought he was… isn’t that in his portrait a selfie?



    I’m very happy about all of these changes. In the previous games, it was fairly easy to create overpowered heroes who could defeat multiple stacks of units with ease. Looks like these changes will restore sound strategy and tactics in to the gameplay.

    Questions: Are there 3 hexes which are considered “behind” the unit? Also, does going into ‘guard’ require one action point or 3?



    Yes, the three hexes in front of a unit are where it can engage, the 3 behind it are where it can be flanked from.

    The whole thing works using a hidden system called “Awareness”. Units can engage and use attacks of opportunity on adjacent enemies that they are aware of. They can be flanked if attacked from any hex they are not aware of.

    One thing guarding does is make a unit aware of hexes in all directions, not just the ones in front of it. Being stunned causes a unit to not be aware of anything, so it can never engage, and is always flanked.

    Guarding only requires one action point, so a unit can move full distance and still guard.



    I have to say I do love this new combat system. I would like to know if you will be adding the feature to change the direction your unit is facing I.E. will your unit be able to pivot? From what I can tell when you move a unit it just kinda takes whatever direction. So I could see spending one movement point for a one side pivot. To me with this new combat system this could make or brake you. Any feed back on this would be great!



    You can rotate units, but the way the rules are currently set up, there’s almost no reason to. If you don’t do anything with a unit, then it enters guard mode automatically, so the direction it’s facing doesn’t matter. If you do tell it to attack, or something, it will end up facing it’s target, and you won’t be able to change that. The only exception is when a hero casts a spell, which doesn’t cause it to auto-rotate.



    I like the idea of rotating my little minions and arranging them into formation before sending them to their death. It will make their sacrifice for my empire seem worthwhile! >:)

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